A Guide to the ‘Conscious Uncoupling’ of Gwyneth Paltrow and That Dude from Coldplay

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“Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. As awareness calls for types of heroic dedication that his culture no longer provides for him, society contrives to help him forget.” – Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death.

We will all die. It is the unique curse of humans to be cognizant of it long before it happens, because it comes in stages, some more obvious than others. There are signs, reminders that it is coming and we’re powerless to control it. It can be a reminder as obvious as osteoporosis or menopause, or as vague as having our jobs slowly phased out by computers. Our bodies deteriorate, people around us drift away, our skills signifying societal utility become irrelevant, and our world gets smaller.

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If we’re lucky, we are useful just long enough to considerably outlive our usefulness. If we’re extremely lucky, we can surround ourselves with expensive hobbies and sycophants to tell us we’ll always be useful. And if we’re normal, we don’t even get that far: we cling to the margins, hoping to ignore our decline from a soft chair, with the company of our chosen form of escapism.

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Most of us aren’t very useful, so life is a railroad track we’re tied to. We can squirm, we can throw dirt around, and we can kick and scream and yell, but there’s still a train that’s gonna kill us in a fairly predictable amount of time: soon. And that’s viscerally horrifying, no matter how much we react against it, that inevitability of being run over and ground up into nothingness.

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So society rises up to help us ignore the train. And the mechanisms of escapism have grown more and more sophisticated. Booze and drugs are the most well-documented, but lately there are others. Movies, sure, though huge screens and sophisticated CGI can only make us ignore death if the movie is exceedingly memorable. Social media is a new escapism. It’s the instant simulation of societal utility. It allows us to sit in our soft chairs and make an active engagement with a curated news cycle.

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The illusion of relevance allows us to feel like we’re fighting the good fight. We develop hero complexes. We are superior to peers in our chosen field. We are superior to others in our age group. We are definitely superior to celebrities, with their cults and unhealthy diets and egregious displays of wealth and power. We can’t be dying. We’re righteous, forging a special identity, speaking truth to power. We’re on a hero’s journey, righting the axis of the moral universe by calling attention to the cosmically inconsequential foolishness of those in the public eye. If we die doing that, we’ll go down swinging, and that’s not death.

But eventually the computer has to be turned off and we have to sleep, so death reenters the equation. And so we die for a few hours. Then we wake up, not quite autonomous and never lucid enough. And we power up the computer. Find a headline. A target to prove our social worth. In Los Angeles, Gwyneth Paltrow has filed for divorce from Chris Martin.

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